Just when we think we’ve heard it all, a new flabbergaster blows in, a sure, never-to-be-surpassed winner of my coveted Udder Award for utter, abject outdoors stupidity, misuse of equipment category.
Recently, several European hikers were jingling along the York Creek Trail, south of Hwy 3 in the Crowsnest Pass; bear bells attached to everything: walking sticks, day packs, wrists, hats and waffle-stompers.
They spotted a bear high up in a mountain meadow and, to repel a possible bear attack, they drew their bear spray canisters and methodically sprayed themselves with red hot pepper mist until they were burnt, blinded, in agony and in dire need of medical help. Other hikers assisted the stricken Europeans off the trail and into Blairmore hospital.
My bear spray canisters feature more and finer print than I ever saw in 37 years practising law. Through a magnifying glass, early on, in both our official languages, you are told: “This product is for spraying the face of aggressive bears only and is not to be used against domestic animals or human beings.”
It says nothing about domestic use: I’ve known a guide or two who spice up the salad with bear spray.
Years ago, my friend the late Randy Tucker, of Richmond, Va., and I were just started on a float-fishing trip on the upper Elk River in B.C., when our guide, rummaging around in a duffle bag, shot himself in the face with a bear spray that someone had stowed without its safety clip engaged. Randy and I did the rowing for the considerable time it took for our guide to restore his vision and sooth his burnt face with splashings of gallons of cold river water.
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All of which, the summer’s last long weekend looming, leads to the timely topic of “tubing” our big rivers, the use and misuse of craft to do so, and the practices and preparations of the participants. Already there have been several incidents of young tubers getting marooned and/or lost on the Red Deer River and having to be “searched and rescued.”
Once again, I repeat that floats of much more than eight km are for serious river craft, such as canoes, kayaks, and Jon and McKenzie River drift boats.
For the “craft” usually chosen by young tubers, the Fort Normandeau Red Deer River launch down to any of the launch-landing spots in the city is starting to stretch it in terms of safety and comfort, not to mention fun.
On a hot, sunny Sunday in early August I staked out both the Kiwanis picnic grounds and the Great West Adventure Park launch-land sites in Red Deer to see whether the tubers were out and what they had to teach me. Suffice they were out in flotillas! In less than an hour I counted more than 100 “craft” launching, landing or floating by from upstream.
“Craft” is a misnomer that should be summarily jettisoned: they were all an amazing selection of department-store “rubber duckies.” The cartons they came in probably bore the warning that they are intended for beach, lake and pool use, only, and not for floating down big rivers.
Reasons for the warnings are many, including that most duckies are almost impossible to paddle, row, or steer in flowing water, thus many of them are ripped to shreds by hazards such as fallen trees, “sweepers,” boulders, barbed wire, etc.
The river was running fast, high, and slightly off-colour. The high water of June toppled many new trees into the river to form bankside sweepers, notorious hazards to navigation. Few of the tubers bothered with oars or paddles, and some that did plied them frantically to stay away from the far bank’s boulders and sweepers.
The steering is also complicated by the” bonding” habit of tubers tying as many as eight rubber duckies together before they leave the launch site, as insurance against getting separated and being unable to get their duckies all in a row, or into the same nest again. This dangerous tethering insures that when one gets in trouble with derelict logs, bridge abutments, etc., they all go down together.
I saw only one small waterproof bag stowed aboard, big enough to hold a cellphone, maybe, and a warm water- and wind-proof jacket that can save a life from the hypothermia that can creep up even on a sunny day when the wind starts “drying” wet humans.
Rig of the day is still bikinis for females, baggie shorts, tees, maybe, and ball hats for the males. Too many were barefoot because, unfortunately, the bed and shore of this gorgeous river is a minefield of broken glass and rusting metal.
I have too many sad memories of having to share rivers with drunken tubers, hooting, hollering and chugalugging along, then tossing the empties overboard. The only sign of that this recent Sunday was one ducky floating by, the occupants of which were sipping some unknown beverage.
Maybe tuber times are a-changin’ ….
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.